Vehicular combat and MOBA games aren't the first genres you'd think of when brainstorming for a potential mash-up. Part Destruction Derby, part League of Legends, Switchblade is a vehicle-based MOBA that does a good job of explaining things for people who are new to either genre. Being in early access, there is a distinct lack of content on offer in the current build. Saying that, after playing for a good number of hours in its early form, the gameplay loop becomes apparent, and the one more game mentality can definitely set in.
Upon loading the game you are thrown into an arena-like hub area which acts as the game's menu. Options to visit the store, view your cosmetic collection and look at your player stats are all on show, alongside the main "play" area, which displays the mode options. Tutorial levels and quick play are the choices allocated for the early access version, with Co-op vs. AI and ranked currently disabled in order to unify the player base. Although we understand why, this is a strange decision, as the Co-op vs. AI mode could have definitely come in handy before jumping into competitive PvP, or to bridge the gap when waiting to find online players.
Having said that, the two tutorial levels do a reasonable job at showing off the basics of combat and how to use the array of abilities at your disposal. The first explains how to handle the vehicle and level up, with the latter showing how to turn the tide of battle in your favour. Both are short and well explained, meaning you don't feel too inept when you load your first quickplay match.
A quick hop into the customisation area before loading into a match allows you to change a range of options from suit colours and logos to headwear and face paints. Around 5-10 variants of each option are free to change, with the rest requiring additional purchases. Being free-to-play, the game offers your typical dual currency setup where one is earned and one is bought. Vehicle options and customisation allows both currencies to be used, whereas all purchasable character options are only available by spending real money. Neither seems too intrusive, and the core of the game remains the same if you decide not to part with any cash.
The real meat and potatoes of Switchblade is the quickplay PvP mode which pits teams of five against each other in an objective based match. Each team has a set of AI towers which defend your "core", and an army of bots to go on the offensive. The aim of the game is defeating the enemy players, plus their bots and towers, to then expose their core and destroy it, leading to victory. If you've played a MOBA before, you know the score.
There is a balance to be struck on whether to mount an offensive or hold back to defend your towers, however, and the vehicles on offer facilitate these choices. Tank-like defensive classes, nimble attackers and some in-between; Switchblade's biggest asset is its variety in terms of vehicle types and the playstyles each of them provides in the arena. This is emphasised further by the ability to pick two vehicles to swap out on the fly, allowing for even more options.
This may sound somewhat linear, but the PvP aspect makes the battlefield come to life. The towers and bots present are quite static, but the dynamic battles that occur between players mean you're never safe to stand still, and you must combine thoughtful manoeuvring with well-placed shots if you're to survive. The thrill of evading fire, swapping routes and utilising your special ability to take out multiple foes is where the game shines and often made us forget about the objectives at hand, much to our teammates' displeasure. With the AI vehicles sticking to a linear track in the current game type (which is how MOBAs typically work), we would like to see an alternate mode offered in the future where bots roam free and the dynamism of PvP encounters could be shared across the board.
The technical side of things does let the game down somewhat. Upon loading on PS4, the game instantly looks dated with its grainy aesthetic and subpar visual effects. The art style is also quite jarring, as the drab backgrounds don't quite match the visual style of the vehicles and objectives. The performance doesn't always keep up either, especially in parts of the tutorial levels where we saw dips to well below the 30fps target. These drawbacks, in combination with the small player base and lack of content on offer (there's only one map!), serve as disappointing reminders that the game is still in development, and isn't quite finished. Yes, the game is free, but more content is necessary to offer players the variety needed to sustain a healthy fanbase. We look forward to seeing how the game develops in the coming months, and whether developer Lucid Games can build on the fun foundations set out with Switchblade.
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